Tonganoxie’s Science Olympiad squad sets sights on state
Whether it’s building a robotic arm, racing a car with magnets or tackling written tests, the Tonganoxie High School Science Olympiad team is ready for a state competition.
The squad placed sixth overall in its regional competition Feb. 20, which helped the team secure a spot April 6 in the state competition in Wichita.
It marks the fourth consecutive time the team has qualified for state. And it’s doing so against bigger schools from Classes 6A and 5A.
That doesn’t seem to matter, according to this year’s lone senior, Paige Lauri. Despite fewer resources for Class 4A Tonganoxie — some schools have specific Science Olympiad classes, while Class 4A THS does not — the local squad holds its own.
“We still manage to do very well at regionals and state,” said Lauri, who has competed in Science Olympiad all four years of high school.
Last year’s squad featured seven seniors, so some members of this year’s squad have moved into new roles.
“We tried to fill in with juniors, sophomores and freshmen,” Lauri said. “I think we did OK for being a young brand new team basically.
At the regional competition, Lauri placed second in experimental design and fourth in anatomy.
Teammates also placing at regionals were Katelyn Waldeier, second in experimental design, third in both water quality and disease detectives and fourth in anatomy; Celeste Bartels, third in disease detectives and fifth in both dynamic planet and material science; Halston Field, second in experimental design; Ben Jacobs, third in water quality; Jon Irwin, fifth in remote sensing; Austin Harris, fifth in remote sensing and magnetic levitations; Evan Stilgenbauer, fifth in magnetic levitations and robot arm; Danielle Irwin, fifth in dynamic planet; Megan Briggs: fifth in material science; and Garrett French, fifth in robot arm.
Other team members who came close to medaling in their respective events were Spencer Finkbiner, Tyler Fraedrich, Jake Tollefson, Jake Griffin and Sean Ketchum.
Team members gather twice a week after the school as their schedules allow, though much preparation also take place at home.
For French and Stilgenbauer, pushing the right buttons were key to creating a successful robot arm.
The teammates control the robot arm with a Playstation game controller. French said he used a Lynx motion kit to operate the robot arm and modified the kit for the competition.
French said there are some parameters for the competition, such as battery voltage and the robot arm’s dimensions.
“The most challenging thing probably is working within the budget parameters,” French said.
Students work school concession stands to help raise money for the team, but materials for competitions require plenty of out-of-pocket expenses.
For another competition — magnetic levitations — students have to build a runway of sorts that carries a small car down the track with the use of magnets and a motor.
Stilgenbauer said the homemade track is made of aluminum and wood and has 50 magnets built into it. Stilgenbauer and teammate Austin Harris built their track from scratch, though many teams purchased their straightaway courses online, Stilgenbauer said.
“We’re pretty proud of our track,” he said.
Some specifications for the competition are that the car weighs more than 250 grams — the closer to that weight the better — and teams have to predict how quickly theirs cars complete the course.
“The hardest part is timing,” Stilgenbauer said. “Guesstimating the timing.”
Stilgenbauer said his grandfather, Jim Grinter, donated equipment that can help estimate elapsed time, which would help in preparations for state, he said.
That is a plus, now that the project is fully operational.
“We just have to make it go faster now,” Stilgenbauer said. “We finally got it to float. It took us a good three weeks to move down the track.”
Some categories, though, don’t involve building, but are written tests.
The experimental design event arguably is Tonganoxie’s strongest, as the team has medaled at state in the event each of the last 10 years.
For the anatomy category, students can fill up two pages with notes for the competition.
Lauri said she used 6-point font to cram in plenty of information in the allotted space.
For the material science category, which is a new category, there are new practice tests. A thick binder filled with notes indicates the amount of preparation that goes into the competition.
“It’s hard to prepare problem solving for the questions,” Bartels said.
But the THS teammates are up to the task, putting in “hours and hours and hours” of preparation for the events. Lauri said she even spent a snow day going over a specific area of the anatomy category.
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